From Chicken Soup for the Country Soul

A Christmas Guest

Grandpa Jones, a man I consider brilliant, once found a book of poetry in Germany. The book had been in a fire and the lower portion of it was burned. Consequently, some of the poems didn’t include endings, and though the book had been translated into English, it was archaic— a couple of hundred years old anyway. So when Grandpa returned to the U.S., he said, “I really like this poem, but I don’t know how it ends.” He gave the poem to me, and I wrote the last verse. Then I gave it back to him.

I got with Bill Walker to do the melody to go behind the recitation, and I told Grandpa we were going to record and that night he needed to be in the studio. I guess he thought we were going to have his regular band with four or five people. He walked in and an entire orchestra was waiting.

“I’m in the wrong place,” he said.

“No, you’re not,” I replied.

Grandpa said, “Then it must be the wrong week, wrong day.”

And I said, “No, it’s not. This is your band.”

“Is that going to be on the record?”

When I told him yes, he said, “I ain’t never been outnumbered like this.”

I ran down charts with the orchestra while Grandpa sat around. The song was done in one take. . . .

It happened one day near December’s end,

Two neighbors called on an old -time friend,

And they found his shop, so meager and me an,

Made gay with a thousand boughs of green,

And Conrad was sitting with face a-shine—

When he suddenly stopped as he stitched a twine

And said, “Old friends, at dawn today

When the cock was crowing the night away,

The Lord appeared in a dream to me

And said, ‘I am coming your guest to be,’

So I’ve been busy with feet a stir,

Strewing my shop with branches of fir.

The table is spread and the kettle is shined

And over the rafters the holly is twined—

And now I will wait for my Lord to appear

And listen closely so I will hear

His step as he nears my humble place,

And I open the door and look on his face .”

So his friends went home and left Conrad alone,

For this was the happiest day he had known.

For long since his family had passed away

And Conrad had spent many a sad Christmas day.

But he knew with the Lord as his Christmas guest,

This Christmas would be the dearest and best.

So he listened with only joy in his heart,

And with every sound he would rise with a start

And look for the Lord to be at his door

Like the vision he had a few hours before.

So he ran to the window after hearing a sound,

But all he could see on the snow-covered ground

Was a shabby beggar whose shoes were torn

And he said, “Your feet must be frozen and sore—

I have some shoes in my shop for you,

And a coat that will keep you warmer, too.”

So with grate ful heart the man went away—

But Conrad noticed the time of day;

He wondered what made the dear Lord so late

And how much longer he ’d have to wait—

When he heard a knock and ran to the door,

But it was only a stranger once more,

A bent old lady with a shawl of black,

With a bundle of kind ling piled on her back.

She asked for only a place to rest,

But that was reserve d for Conrad’s great guest,

But her voice seemed to plead, “Don’t send me away,

Let me rest for a while on Christmas Day.”

So Conrad brewed her a steaming cup

And told her to sit at the table and sup.

But after she left, he was filled with dismay,

For he saw that the hours were slipping away,

And the Lord had not come as he said he would,

And Conrad felt sure he had misunderstood,

When out of the stillness he heard a cry,

“Please help me and tell me where am I.”

So again he opened his friendly door

And stood disappointed as twice before.

It was only a child who had wandered away

And was lost from her family on Christmas Day.

Again Conrad ’s heart was heavy and sad,

But he knew he could make this little girl glad,

So he called her in and wiped her tears

And quieted all her childish fears,

Then he led her back to her home once more.

But as he entered his own darkened door,

He knew that the Lord was not coming today

For the hours of Christmas had passed away.

So he went to his room and knelt down to pray,

And he said, “Lord, why did you delay?

What kept you from coming to call on me,

For I wanted so much your face to see.”

When soft in the silence, a voice he heard,

“Lift up your head for I kept my word.

Three times my shadow crossed your floor;

Three times I came to your lowly door;

For I was the beggar with bruised cold feet;

I was the woman you gave some thing to eat;

And I was the child on the homeless street;

Three times I knocked, three times I came in,

And each time I found the warmth of a friend.

Of all the gifts, love is the best;

I was honored to be your Christmas Guest.”

Grandpa Jones
Introduction by Fred Foster

Christmas Guest reprinted by permission of Loray El Marlee Publishing.

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